As there’s not a lot of advice on using stand mixers for mixing bread dough, I though I’d share my experiences with you. I’ve covered the basics in this post – this is the detail.
Because of worsening health, even before my recent crisis, and spreading arthritis, some months ago I started using a stand mixer, a Kenwood Chef Classic (avoid the Kenwood Prospero, it’s cheap and nasty, and the dough hook is a piece of junk).
Kitchen Aid mixers, which in some ways I would have preferred, are gorgeous, particularly the special edition Candy Apple Red version, but they’re overpriced and underpowered – see footnote.
My first attempt at using the mixer was disappointing and very loud. Making dough for a single loaf (about 900g total dough weight), the dough hook, once the ingredients were mixed, just picked up the dough and pounded it against the sides of the bowl. Oddly enough, the finished dough was fine, but aside from the noise, I doubted that the machine would survive such a pounding on a regular basis so, feeling brassed off, I abandoned the idea.
Then, about 6 months ago, I just had to use the mixer, as making bread by hand was getting increasingly difficult especially as I was, by then, making two loaves in succession** (a friend gives me lifts to the shops, I make him bread – seems like a fair trade).
**Making round loaves, I could only bake one at a time – small oven.
I’d been using brotforms (round cane baskets), to shape the loaves and, so that the dough wouldn’t slump when the brotform was removed, it needed a somewhat stiff dough (about 52% hydration if memory serves), and while the bread tasted fine, it had the shelf life of a mayfly.
By October last year, I’d decided to buy a pair of loaf tins, which meant that I was able to use a somewhat wetter dough (60% hydration). This gave a loaf with a moister crumb and better keeping qualities, and also meant that I could mix, and bake, 2 loaves at a time. Buying loaf tins isn’t as easy as it should be, not by a long way, as there is just so much unsuitable crap being peddled (i.e. far too many retailers unable to tell the difference between a loaf and a cake tin), which I’ve covered in this post.
All my flour comes from Shipton Mill. Currently I use their Organic Strong Plain White (701), blended with their strong Organic 100% Wholemeal Flour (205) – 100% means just that; you get the whole of the grain.
I’m tempted to try their Organic Stoneground Wholemeal (703) at some point, though for now I’m perfectly happy with what I’m using.
I store my flour in an old fridge-freezer, which I’ve moved into a corner of my bedroom. As the thermostat doesn’t need to be moved beyond its minimum setting, noise from the cooling system is minimal. All I have to do is remember to get out the flour the day before I’m baking (though I do have a 2.5kg airtight bulk container on my worktop in the kitchen which holds enough flour for 4 baking sessions).
I’m not entirely sure I need to, but I overwrap the flour bags with plastic bags before freezing, and the freezer enables me to store more flour than I could otherwise find room for which, in turn, makes the carriage charge more cost effective, though considering that flour is both heavy and bulky their £5 delivery charge (as of last November; I don’t know if it’s changed), is very reasonable. The only thing that irks me is that some of the flours I’d like to try are supplied only in 25kg bags – way too much for my needs, and I’ve nowhere to store it anyway. Oh well, nothing’s perfect!
As regular readers will know, I’ve been seriously ill lately, and I was too sick to bake for a few weeks, when I got by on store-bought bread. When, the week before last, I finally got back into my baking routine, I was staggered at just how wonderfully tasty my bread is, having not eaten it for a while. No matter how good bread is, if you eat it every day you get blasé about it, so if you find your bread seems a bit dull, eat Chorleywood bread for a while – you’ll soon get your taste back.
So this, then, is my recipe for what has become, over the past few months, my default loaf. It is, by some margin, the best bread I’ve made to date and, false modesty aside, it’s excellent.
Note: I weigh my water and oil – 1g =1ml. Measuring jugs are hopelessly variable and even if my scales are out by a few grams (they’re not), at least the error will be the same for liquid as for dry ingredients, so the proportions will still be correct. Oil, of course, is lighter than water, but for such a small quantity, that matters not at all.
For the bread (makes 2 loaves):-
500g strong wholemeal flour (as above)
600g strong white flour (ditto)
1.5 teaspoons Fermipan yeast
2 teaspoons golden caster sugar (or white)
4 rounded teaspoons Maldon sea salt (dissolved in the remaining water)
100ml olive oil
2 Tablespoons Aspall Organic Cyder Vinegar
660ml lukewarm water
NB: The vinegar was added to reduce the tendency of the bread to go mouldy after a few days in Summer – it doesn’t affect the taste. It also give an improved texture, as a bonus. It will, though, make the dough wetter and sticky, so if you’re a novice, reduce the water by the same amount, as a wet, sticky dough, while it yields very nice bread, is a bugger to work if you’re new to the game.
First of all, I always make a starter with about half a pint of lukewarm water (taken from the measured water for the dough), a tablespoon of the white flour (from the weighed portion), one teaspoon Meridian organic barley malt extract (sort of a teaspoon – it’s way too sticky to measure accurately), and a teaspoon of Fermipan yeast, in my view the best dried yeast available for home breadmaking, and I’ve tried most of those available. It comes in 500g vacuum packs and freezes well, once opened, decanted into a screw-top plastic jar.
Whisk all the ingredients together, and set aside until frothing vigorously – 20-30 minutes depending on the ambient temperature.
While that’s happening, combine all the dry ingredients in the mixer’s bowl (I use a tablespoon), then lock the bowl onto the mixer’s base, and lower the dough hook into the flour. Run it for a minute or two, on the minimum setting, to ensure everything is fully mixed, then turn it off.
Some people advocate starting the mixing process using the beater tool, which is totally unnecessary and just adds to the washing up. I don’t use the pouring guard either – it just gets in the way.
Note: I use the mixer on minimum to mix the dough, stopping and scraping down the bowl as needed (a flexible spatula is best for this, and one comes with the machine). Once the dough is mixed I increase the speed to 1 to work the dough. There’s no need, in my opinion, to go any higher than that – all you get is more noise for little benefit.
So, back on track, you’ve mixed all the dry ingredients, dissolved the salt in the balance of the water, plus the viegar, measured the oil and the yeast mixture is frothing like it’s going out of fashion.
You’ll see that the dough hook has a plastic plate near the top – this is to stop the dough climbing all the way up and making a mess of the mixer. It also gets in the way when you’re adding the water and oil, so take care.
So, start the mixer, on minimum, stir the yeast mix and pour it into the bowl on the right-hand side, followed by the salted water (the water will be cold by now – it doesn’t matter), then immediately pour in the oil on the left-hand side (I measure the oil into a small glass). I’ve tried pouring everything in the same place, and this works better – why, I have no idea, but the dough mixes more efficiently.
Still running on minimum (stop the machine if the rotating mixer head makes you nervous), work the spatula round the sides of the bowl, scraping down any flour and bits of dough that get left behind, until the dough is a homogeneous mass, with no dry flour or unmixed oil or water visible.
OK, so now you can speed up the mixer to 1, and let it run for a few minutes. Until the novelty wears off, it’s interesting to watch the dough slowly climb up the dough hook, in apparent defiance of gravity, and once it reaches the plastic plate, turn the mixer off and scrape the dough down into the bowl. Start the mixer again and repeat the process (normally once more for me), until the whole ball of dough comes free from the bowl.
Stop the machine, raise the mixer head until it locks, then scrape the dough back down into the bowl (to which, perversely, it will then cling like a limpet!).
Remove the bowl from the mixer, dust your work surface with a little white flour (I use a tea strainer for this), and using the spatula, scrape and prise the dough out of the bowl. The first couple of times this is a real pain, but you’ll soon get the knack.
Once it’s out, dump the bowl, dust the top of the dough with an equally small amount of flour, as it’ll be sticky, then work it quickly into a smooth, un-sticky ball – if you’ve measured your water accurately, that’ll happen without fuss or mess or any more flour being needed.
Flatten the ball slightly, sit on a sheet of baking parchment (saves having to scrape it off the worktop later!), and cover closely with clingfilm (you’ll need two lengths), and a tea-towel, and leave until doubled in size. This is the first proving.
That, despite what some celebrity bakers think, will take as long as it takes – you can’t do it by the clock. There are so many factors affecting the rising of dough – ambient temperature, draughts, humidity, even atmospheric pressure according to some, which makes sense – that you can’t make bread with a stop-watch, except for the baking of it.
Once it’s doubled (more or less – no need to be obsessive about it), in size, discard the clingfilm and cut the dough in half. A bench knife (also known as dough divider or scraper though, perversely, most scrapers are not bench knives), is by far the best tool for this, as it is for other breadmaking tasks. Roll the dough into two balls, and weigh them. Take dough from the heavier and add to the lighter until both are the same weight. The first time, it’s a fiddly process, but once you’ve done it a couple of times you can get both balls of dough to within 1gram of each other in a couple of minutes. Initially, if you can get to within 5grams that’ll be OK.
At this point flatten out one piece of dough, roll into a sausage, bring the ends to the middle and roll until roughly the same length as the loaf tin. Drop the dough in seam-side down, and press to roughly fit the tin. Repeat.
Using an oil sprayer, lightly spritz each piece of dough, then using one tin as a weight, press down on the dough in the other until it conforms to the shape of the tin. Repeat for the other loaf.
You’ll see that, around the edges the dough will have been pushed up a little – just tuck it back down using your fingers until the top is more or less uniform (with experience, that will get neater), cover with clingfilm, and a tea-towel, and leave to prove for the second time.
Contrary to what the Americans think, the word is prove, and not proof, confirmed by the Oxford Dictionary of English. Deriving, as it does, from the Latin probare – to test – my theory is that the proving, as in the rising of the dough, proves that the yeast is viable, and doing its job. The same derivation as proving a gun barrel (in that it works, and won’t blow up in the user’s face), and nothing to do, for example – though the derivation is the same – with the proof of spirits (liquor), which may be where the confusion arose. Or maybe the proof of the pudding – who the hell can figure out colonials!
The problem is that American breadmaking books dominate the market, and sooner or later, as so often when people fuck up English, the wrong version will become accepted and the correct version will disappear. And all because American bakers don’t know their prove from their proof.
Once the dough has reached the rim of the tins – both loaves, having been through exactly the same process, should rise simultaneously – loosen the clingfilm, ensuring that it doesn’t restrict the rising, and remove the tea-towel so you can more easily keep an eye on it.
As the dough begins to rise above the edge of the tin, fire up the oven, gas 6, 200C. Ideally, you want the oven to be at its baking temp for maybe 10-15 minutes before the bread goes in. This is particularly important if, as I do, you use a baking stone (this, among other virtues, retains heat so that, when the oven is opened, less heat is lost than would otherwise be the case).
So now your oven has been hot for 15 minutes, and your loaves have risen a couple of centimetres above the edge of the tin. Now you can dust the tops with flour then, with a very sharp blade – I currently use a heavy, serrated bread knife – slash the tops deeply from end to end, open the oven and put in the tins on the middle shelf, one at the back, one at the front. Toss a cup of hot water onto the floor of the oven (you might want to insert a dish for this purpose if you make bread on a regular basis), close the door and set the time for 20 minutes. I’m assuming a standard, non-fan oven.
After 20 minutes, open the oven, and move the loaf at the back to the front, also turning it round, and move the front loaf to the back, turning that round too. Close the oven – the whole process should have taken less than a minute – and reset the timer for 17 minutes.
Ovens vary in efficiency, of course, so with experience you might want to extend or shorten the second time period
After this time, remove the loaves and turn out onto a wire rack to cool – if they’re properly cooked the body of the loaf – the part within the tin – should be a pale gold, with darker corners.
Once cold, you can brush off the flour, should you wish (it’s merely cosmetic). I brush most off, just leaving a very light dusting to hi-light the texture of the crust. I also double-wrap the loaves, at this point, in plastic bags (Lakeland’s Freezeasy size 6 bags are exactly the right size, supermarket bags, these days, are too small.)
One final comment – breadmaking is easy, it takes far longer to write about than to do, but you absolutely must weigh and measure with almost obsessive accuracy, which is why, as I said earlier, I weigh liquids as well as dry ingredients. For most cooking, you can wing it, but not for baking and especially not for bread – 500g means exactly that. Close enough simply isn’t good enough
The Kenwood Chef Classic has an 800W motor (my current – 2012 – Chef Premier Silver has a 1,000W motor). The Kitchen Aid Artisan mixer (widely available in the UK and, looking at the KA website, the model officially supplied to the UK retail market, though others can be found here and there), for example, has a mere 300W motor (the K5 heavy duty commercial machine is an unimpressive 315W). Both Kenwood and KA have the same standard tools – beater, whisk and dough hook – plus pouring shield and stainless steel bowl. The Kenwood is £171.41 and the KA Artisan £409, both at Amazon.
I’d love the Artisan, in any colour as long as it’s red, but that’s way too expensive, even though it’s substantially over-engineered in some ways, and I’ve seen online gripes about its short-term reliability too, and though it’s the sort of machine that can be dismantled and repaired at home, at the price unreliability isn’t really acceptable.
Oh, and they do tend to get clogged with flour, needing occasional dismantling and lubing. See this blog post on the subject, and note that it’s described as “big and powerful”. Sorry, no it’s not, it’s 300W or 315W, either way less powerful than many electric drills, and and big enough to make no more than one loaf at a time. They also have a frangible gear pinion, designed to self-destruct if the machine is overloaded and needing a major stripdown to replace. KitchenAid seem not to have heard of circuit breakers.